Restaurant Review #1: Michael Symon's Roast
If you are a fan of the blog site then you know my first review was an unfavorable review of the "What's Cooking Detroit" expo. I haven't quite figured out my rating scale on things for this blog. Any suggestions? Plates maybe...hmmm?? I figured I'd start with a positive review after my rant on the expo. If there is one place in downtown that does everything right from front of house to grill to dishwasher it is Michael Symon's Roast. If you are a vegan, vegetarian, or raw foods person...STOP READING HERE.
ocated inside the heroically restored Book Cadillac Hotel at Third and Michigan in downtown Detroit, this restaurant is a jewel in the tarnished tiara of the Motor City. The decor is very contemporary and although laden in deep rich hues, it manages to remain airy and for lack of a better word...happy. Michael Symon manages to bring the the eclectic down to the level of comfort with his open kitchen arrangement. For the most part, the menu, roasting spit of the "Beast of the Day" and extensive beer list are weighted towards the male persuasion.
The menu itself is an antiqued, embossed copper and leather bound cover. And if you missed my disclaimer above, the name speaks for itself. If you do not like the look, smell, or taste of meat then you don't belong in this establishment. Lets start with the appetizers and salads. The charcuterie (shar-coo-ter-ee) plate for two is always phenomenal. It is a seasonal assortment of meats, cheeses, spreads, and toast rounds that are accompanied by a tangy, grainy mustard and pickled vegetables. If you are looking for some real heat, then I'd like to suggest the stuffed Hungarian peppers. Although over the years the stuffing has altered slightly, the end result is always a good balance of comforting juicy sausage, crunchy pepper, and a touch of sweetness. There is usually a seafood offering such as the scallops, which although they leave you wanting more, is just enough not to fill you up for the main course. By far, the one item that I crave minutes after leaving the restaurant is the bacon lardon salad. It has evolved since the opening but the mixture of acid form the vinegar, combined with the creaminess of the quail egg yolk, and the fat of the slab bacon is a Utopian moment.
Come for the steaks, but stay for the confit! It doesn't matter which cut you like, they offer it and it's tremendous. The fam and I have frequented Roast since shortly after it opened and not once have we had to send a cut back. The filet is so tender and flavorful that it puts some of the pricier steak houses to shame. I prefer a little sin with my steak so I opt for the ribeye and its fantastic balance of raw beefy flavor and melty fat. Some members of my family prefer the standard NY strip..and while not may favorite it is equally as delicious. If you want to step outside the box, try the pork shank confit. I'm guessing this is not on a diet points list. Think snooty suburbia meets the Flintstones. A giant bone with meat so tender it borders on a dream. Although braised in fat it doesn't present oily and the crisp red grapes help cut any perceived greasy taste.
Sides...oh do they have an abundance! The polenta is better than any I have had in my travels with great balance of texture and creaminess. The mac-n-cheese has a pungent aroma but the tang is balanced when eaten with the al dente pasta. Roast also offers staples like creamed spinach and roasted mushrooms but the star of this side show is the brussel sprouts. Ok, go ahead and unwrinkle your nose because these aren't your grandma's brussel sprouts. They take them, quarter them, fry them, add toasted walnuts and coat them in a balsamic glaze. It is sweet, salty, and heart clogging goodness and I bet they change your mind on this falsely accused veggie.
Be sure and check out their extensive wine and beer list including some artisan brews that could be mistaken for a fine wine.
The wait staff is very versed in their products and can recommend a strong pairing for any combination of dishes. I would advise you to apply for an Open Table account to do an online reservation or calli ahead . But, once you go, this is where Roast seals the deal. Above the grand food is exceptional customer service. The staff happened to save me one night when I took a vendor to dinner and made me look like a rock star. That is what makes customers feel special. That and being playful enough to share a slice of birthday cake with our party. We miss you Ashley but you left us in good hands!! :)
FOOD: 4.5 Plates (1 to 5 scale)
SERVICE: 5 Plates
ATMOSPHERE: 5 Plates
Restaurant Review #2: Bob E's Super Chief
Sometimes the best meals do not come with a white linen napkin and $400.00 bottle of wine. Sometimes the best meals trigger memories of relatives who are gone too soon or vacations taken decades ago. This is the sensation I get everytime I walk into Bob E's Super Chief in Pontiac, MI. Located on the corner of Telegraph and Walton, this restaurant could be something you don't give a second glance to, unless you know the secrets that await inside. I love diners that are only open until 5:00p! That means that they do not try to spread themselves into a market they aren't good at. If you have an old school griddle and fryer...stick to what you can do best and in Bob E's case that is breakfast and lunch. If 1960's and 70's kitsch is your thing, you will LOVE this place with its plethora of American Indian memorabilia, retro booths, and staff with as much gumption as Flo and Alice from the "Mel's Diner" era. Sure they have the traditional diner fare but the most phenomenal items they have are their hot dogs.
A hot dog...really?!? Oh yeah...like I said it is your childhood all covered in t-shirt ruining goodness and a crispy, buttery, and grilled bun! They even trim the outside so it is almost like a grilled cheese type crisp. One second...drooling. Then they add a juicy hotdog, top it with Michigan's famous meaty coney chili, crisp onions, and that classic yellow mustard to complete the heavenly experience. Everything it served in old school paper baskets, even the fries, and the ketchup comes in the traditional red squeezy bottle. Wash everything down with a fountain pop and viola!! Yeah...your five again, sitting in Tiger's Stadium.
Just as with any diner, the desserts are homemade and displayed on the counter. However, they have one a chocolate cream cake that has to stay in the fridge. It goes fast because it is bumpy cake on steroids. Make sure to ask your server if they have any left and if not the moist carrot cake with dense cream cheese frosting, or apple pie with crisp apples and bitey cinnamon are sure to please. Make sure you take some time to look at the photos and read up on the history. It is comforting to know that somethings remain in the family.
FOOD: 4 Plates
SERVICE: 4 Plates
ATMOSPHERE: 6 Plates (I know its a 5 Plate scale but I LOVE the kitsch)
Restaurant Review #3: Rojo Mexican Bistro (Rochester, MI)
A few years ago, one of my college friends and I visited the Rojo restaurant in Novi. I was impressed with the vibrancy of the decor, the energy from both the patrons and the wait staff, and the general freshness of the food that we ate. I love, LOVE guacamole and over the years have developed a simple recipe (which I will post after this review) and found Rojo's fresh tableside preparation both fun for a foodie and contained both the creaminess and sweetness that I adore. So, you can imagine my delight when the signs went up in Rochester, MI for a new Rojo. This new facility would be much closer to my work and home! YES!!!
So, I went a few weeks after it opened to lunch with my boss and a vendor. We were sat right away but waited fifteen minutes before someone even acknowledged we were there. We didn't even have water. Then it took another 20 minutes to have a second person take our order, ten more minutes before the guacamole was made, and an additional twenty until the food started to arrive but whoops they forgot one entree. Ok, ok...it’s still new and I love the food...I'll give them another try. So about three weeks later I went with the same friend from college. Again, ten to fifteen minutes before we even put in our drink order. We ordered the guac...but they failed to clear any of the plates so, even with our stacking them up by the time my entree arrived I was balancing my dinner plate with one hand to keep it from dumping in my lap. And, believe me had one person even walked close enough for us to ask for assistance I would have! Hmmm...well I am seeing a trend here. Utter disorganization, horrible attitudes, and lack of knowledge of their positions. This was strike two.
So, I waited another month. Surely by now the new opening jitters and bugs were worked out. I mean, I dream about their luscious seared scallop and bitter Swiss chard fajitas. Please, please be better. We went for lunch again. Either our waitress had a bad day or she woke up on the wrong side of the bed the day she was born. You could tell she didn't want to be there, and for a third trip straight she walked past our table and looked us in the eye at least three or four times before she finally decided she had enough energy to talk to us. No amount of guacamole, no fajita, no refried bean, or even icy cold margarita is worth this torture. It's a shame too. The Rochester and Rochester Hills area is filled with people who have very particular tastes. I have spoken to at least a half dozen people or more who have had similar experiences at the Rochester Rojo and will also not return. The saying is for every good review someone only tells 2 people and for every bad one they tell ten. Well, here is to hoping someone sees this and gets their act together or Rojo will be hasta la vista!
FOOD: 2.5 Plates (Would've gone higher if it all had arrived hot and correct)
SERVICE: .5 Plate (At least the hostess was nice)
ATMOSPHERE: 2 Plates (More stuffy than their Novi location but the tequila bottles are still cool)
Restaurant Review #4: The Inn at Black Star Farms
Well as you have noticed there was a lull in my writing. Strictly because I was on a mini vacation. We are lucky here in the state of Michigan to have a state which cannot be duplicated. We have the coasts with the great lakes that provide almost as much fun as the oceans, we have inland lakes, camping, hunting, hiking, pro sports, urban life, country life, and all points in between. We are also lucky that the Traverse City area and the peninsulas are becoming a highly regarded wine producing area. For the past two years my mom whom we will loving name "The Queen" and I travel in October to Mackinac Island. I'll get to that visit in another review. Last year we stayed at the Grand Traverse Resort and then drove to the wineries, and this year we decided to get just a bit closer. The Inn at Black Star Farms is in a word majestic. They have on onsite horse farm which is why maybe I lean towards describing this place as a Kentucky mansion meets the Napa Valley. As a guest you get a pass to the tasting room, and may I recommend arriving around 2:00p or so because the out buildings and tasting rooms close at 6:00p.
Black Star Farms also boasts an onsite creamery with a soft spreadable cheese (we had the garlic) and both a young and aged raclette (pronounced RACK-let) cheese. The tasting room reminded me of a very fancy open barn with huge sky lights and imposing wood beams. Besides their wine and spirit lines and the cheeses, the tasting room offered whimsical snacks, clothing, and chocolates. A feast for the eyes and mouth. We arrived closer to 4:30p so we headed straight for the tasting room because the highly talked about appetizers started in the Inn at 5:30p. I like earthy reds and sweet whites. So, for the interest of space I am only going to discuss two of the many I tried. First the red...my favorite was the Red House Red! It isn't their most expensive but had a great balance of acidity, spice, and fruit. The nose brought visions of ripe cherries and plums. As for the whites, I loved the Late Harvest Riesling!! For me this wine was just above the sweetness of an ice wine. Very smooth, aromas of wild flowers and honey crisp apples...mmmm.
Normally the Inn's chef offers a dinner and wine pairing but alas we were too late in the season. They did offer appetizers. The first was a flat bread with creamy goat cheese, roasted cherry tomatoes and fresh basil grown on the property, and a drizzle of fruity balsamic vinegar. The second I was a little more reluctant to try but did so because on vacation I eat outside my comfort zone. I do not like fishy flavors so I am always hesitant to try certain dishes. They offered quenelles of whitefish with a tomato sauce. It was lightly crispy on the outside and light on the inside. The sauce was tart yet creamy and hid any latent fishy flavor that could've ruined it for me. Not going to lie and say I had more than one but I did try it :). The also offered scones and wow...they were buttery and tasted like graham crackers. So good!! They were served slightly warm and had tiny bursts of sweetness from the currants inside.
The real star was breakfast. The Inn is a traditional bed and breakfast...ok not traditional because our suite was the size of my house! However, the kitchen was rustic and felt like my great grandmothers farmhouse with its open layout and comforting smells wafting up the foyer (see picture below). For breakfast we had savory waffled infused with root vegetables, ham from a pig raised onsite, poached egg, and a lemon basil hollandaise. Fantastic presentation, tremendous flavor, but if were to ever do it myself I'd do it a bit differently. It may be personal preference but when I think waffle I think crispy and crunchy. The juices from the ham, the poached egg's moisture, and the sauce left my waffles more of a cake texture. I did love the flavor with the sweet potato and rutabaga inside. Just enough sweetness to trick your mind into knowing it was a waffle in the traditional sense. The ham was tender and not overly salted and paired well will the decadent poached egg. Once you split the yolk it was an added layer of buttery flavor. I was concerned about there being too much heaviness from the hollandaise but was surprised that the lemon and fresh basil cut the fattiness. The basil shone through to make your mouth feel spring although it is autumn. The portion size was enough that many of the more seasoned (wink,wink) guests could not finish their plates. No one left hungry.
The inn also offers a market near the tasting room with daily snack and meal offerings. I didn't make it over there but really wished I could've tried the white pizza with truffle oil. The views are spectacular so even if you cannot stay at the inn come for the winery and plan to picnic.
FOOD: 4 Plates
SERVICE: 6 Plates (You feel like VIP from arrival until you drive away)
ATMOSPHERE: 8 Plates (It is very peaceful but also an adventure. Thank you to the chef who took the time to answer my questions.)
Restaurant Review #5: The Grand Hotel
We've come to live in an age of instantaneous gratification. We have "smart" phones that can tell you the weather, let you watch a movie, and give you driving directions in mere seconds. We have high speed trains, jet airplanes, and sports cars that can go into triple digit speeds. Today everything is go, go, GO! That is why I like my yearly trips to Mackinac Island. I don't mind the lack of motorized transportation, I enjoy the rhythmic sounds of horse hooves and the many styles of wagon and bicycles lining the streets. However, I go there for one thing...the Grand Hotel. It still amazes me how in any other city in the world I prefer modern beds, sheets, large, flat-panel televisions to feel opulent. But at the Grand...ahh the Grand...opulence is in the staunch rules and eclectic decor of the rooms. There are no swipe cards here...no television spitting political tickers, but there is formal tea at 3:30 PM, and after 6:00 PM you are not allowed on the main parlor level unless you are dressed up...especially for dinner.
Here is where I admit my foodie-ness...because we pre-purchase our package to the "Somewhere In Time" movie weekend each year, I am on the Grand Hotel's website as soon as the seasonal opening occurs to look at the menus. Unlike modern hotels and restaurants, the Main Dining Room is a slow, surreal glimpse at what high society once was and still could be. You are given choices for five courses, and although the portions look small, the time it takes you to get through dessert your stomach is satisfied. I will also admit to you that the day I was to arrive on the island this year I called the Dining Room to see which menu they were on (red, blue, or green) because for me it is Christmas day and I just HAVE to open my present!! So here is a glimpse at this season's three menus...
DAY 1: GREEN MENU: My appetizer of choice was "Prosciutto Di Parma and Grilled Pineapple with Herb Focaccia and Coffee Mayonnaise". Well this foodie loves proscuitto! Although, I will have to admit I have had better ones from the gourmet shops near home. The focaccia was thin and didn't really add much to the dish. It was more a garnish in my mind and didn't add anything. The pineapple did not have any grill marks that I expected, no charred flavor so for me it was just room temperature pineapple that was juicy and mouthwatering. By far the star on the plate was a dime sized dollop of the mayonnaise. It had the aroma of smokey coffee and a sweet undertone that paired nicely with the salt of the prosciutto. My soup choice was the "Lyonnaise Style Onion Soup w/ Crisp Baguette". Well, I let "The Queen" taste it first and she was wishing she had picked this soup instead. The silky broth was both laden with caramel flavor from the onions and a richness from both good beef stock and butter. The baguette was for me an afterthought, not crisp and too thick to be cut with your spoon and enjoyed with the soup. I know I felt my arteries clog but since it was decadent I will forgive myself. The salad was a "Classic Caesar with Garlic Croutons and Parmesan Dressing." To be honest it was just another Caesar salad for me, nothing bad but nothing memorable. For my entree I chose "Maple Glazed Duck Breast with Duck Leg Confit, Poached Bosc Pear, and Lingonberry Sauce." I was hesitant because I know that duck can be "gamey" or off tasting. But I was pleasantly surprised that the breast, although very over cooked, was juicy and had the faintest sugar flavor from the maple syrup. The confit was delicious, which is admirable given the large scale on which it must be prepared. The lingonberry sauce was reminiscent of cranberry sauce, just tart enough to make you get that little twinge at the base of your jaw. For dessert I had the "Chocolate Cherry Devil's Food Cake". Sadly, not my favorite. The cake was slightly dry, and the best part of the plate was the cherry compote although I would've preferred it warm.
DAY 2: BLUE MENU: My appetizer was my favorite of my entire weekend here which was the "American Wagyu Beef Tartar." For those of you who don't know what Wagyu beef is...have you heard of Kobe Beef? No...well lets start there...Kobe beef is Japanese beef that is pampered its entire life. Massaged in beer, fed the finest grains, and allowed a life of leisure. But...the cost of a steak can exceed an apartment rental. So, we frugal Americans did what we do best...Americanized Kobe. The result is Wagyu beef which is still highly marbled, melt in your mouth, but not nearly as expensive. I've had it seared on a salt block at the Waldorf Astoria, but was giddy when I saw the tartar. Beef tartar is creamy, it doesn't taste of blood or iron when done properly and if you question the restaurant's cleanliness at all I would skip anything tartar. The small mound of goodness was served with an herb aioli (mayonnaise) and an heirloom tomato and radish salad. Aioli is common with tartar. The fattiness of the aioli pairs nicely with the heartiness of the beef. To insure there is not too much of a good thing...that being fat...the acidic salad was remarkably refreshing and tangy. My soup was the wild mushroom bisque...the Queen copied...and that is solely because I had the same soup the year before and we recreated it when we got home because it was so good. I do not know who does the soups at the Grand Hotel but the are phenomenal! The chefs ability to capture such pure mushroom flavor when it is enveloped in tongue coating cream whisks you away to a cozy couch surrounded by family. Its comforting and yet classic. The Salad was a "Mackinac Wedge with Crispy Kurobuta Bacon, Blue Cheese, Kalamata Olives, Toasted Hazelnuts, and Tomato Vinaigrette." Remember my talk about Kobe and Wagyu beef...well Kurobuta Bacon is the Kobe of the pig world. Ordinarily, I think that iceberg lettuce is cheap. But dressing it up with succulent Kurobuta bacon, pungent blue cheese, briny olives, crunchy hazel nuts, and a fragrant tomato vinaigrette made the iceberg seem like the scene where Eliza Doolittle fools the man in "My Fair Lady." Sometimes taking a common ingredient and adding such "upper-class" accompaniments can make you think "you can put lipstick on a pig but it is still a pig" mentality...but this didn't it was sinful...it was delightful...it left me wanting more. For my entree I chose the "Garlic Roasted Prime Rib of Beef with Baked Potato and Green Peppercorn Sauce." The cut of prime rib both the Queen and I had were extremely fatty and while some fat on prime rib is good this was REALLY fatty. The peppercorn sauce was lost among the red braised cabbage that didn't really serve a purpose with this dish. My potato was under cooked and I'd have to say the best part of the entree was the bite from the horseradish cream sauce. Unfortunately, I've had better prime rib at restaurants near Detroit. So, I was hoping for redemption with my dessert "Chocolate Chip and Butterscotch Bread Pudding with cinnamon spiced rum sauce." Well, it was warm but the spiced rum sauce overpowered the bread pudding. I didn't taste any of the butterscotch. The pudding was more dense than some I've had but the chips of chocolate were slightly melted and overall this dessert exceeded the previous evening. Thank goodness for the wine we had...a Riesling...delicious and I don't care that I had red meat with white wine. :)
DAY 3: RED MENU: I was quite looking forward to the red menu because the appetizer I was going to have was the "Wild Burgundy Escargots A la Bordelaise and Hazelnut Spatzle." Drat! Darn! Zeut! Yeah, mine missed the mark here. The escargots, though plentiful, had an unpleasant aftertaste. The previous year or two ago, they had served escargot in a puff pastry round with a buttery, creamy wine sauce which far surpassed this dish. The Bordelaise sauce was wonderful with a good balance of herbaceous undertones. If it weren't for the spatzle (which lacked hazelnut flavor) I don't think I would've eaten it. For my soup I chose the "Chilled Puree of French Peas and Salsify with Lobster Aspic." It came served in a metal latticed ice dish and was a vibrant green even muted with the the cream. Imagine picking fresh peas and eating them raw and you'll will only glimpse the fresh flavor that this dish brought forth. The salsify, which I admittedly had to look up prior to dinner, is both a beautiful plant and the texture of it pureed with the peas was delightful. The small cubes of lobster aspic (lobster jello for those of you who haven't watched Julie & Julia) was a pleasant texture change and thank goodness imparted no fishy flavor in my mouth. I think fresh pepper would've woken up the soup a little more but I was not left wishing I had chosen a different option. I may even try to recreate this one for next summer. Very refreshing! The salad was the "Caprese Salad with Buffalo Mozzarella,Pesto Puree, Basil and Roasted Garlic Balsamic and Virgin Olive Oil Dressing." Well the title of that is certainly a mouthful, and the salad was a pleasant trip back into summer. I think this is probably even better when tomatoes are in season, but given that it was October and the island is not near any major food hub, I was amazed that the salad has as much flavor as it did. The acidity of the tomato slices melded well will the salty, smooth mozzarella. The pesto livened up the dressing and added all the dishes salt. A roasted garlic clove adorned the top and in honesty I cut it into smaller pieces because the flavor really balanced the dish. I went to my roots for my entree. By roots I mean that my palette developed at a very young age in southern North Carolina. What Michigan calls "soul food" was everyday food where I grew up. So when I saw "Braised Natural Beef Short Ribs with Coca-Cola Black Eyed Peas and Moonshine Barbeque Sauce," I knew that was the one for me. The short ribs were so tender and juicy that they literally could be cut with a fork. The barbeque sauce was not overly sweet and reminiscent of a Kansas style sauce with deep molasses and rich tomato undertones. Black eyed peas are either done right or wrong and these were done RIGHT! The peas were tender and the Coca-cola sauce wasn't overpowering and married well with the inherent smokiness that the peas bring. This dish was classy comfort food and I still crave it a week later. For dessert I had the "Carrot Cake Cheesecake with Marcona Almond Brittle." Again, this was the best dessert choice I had made all week. The cheesecake was not overly dense. The carrot cake flavor was forward but what has lingered is a distinct earthy cinnamon that spread across your mouth. The Marcona brittle was better than any peanut brittle I have had. Sweet, salty, crunchy, chewy...all the things we women adore.
I must also recommend a spicy Bloody Mary while you are here. At the Jockey Club ours were adorned with pickled asparagus, a crisp new pickle and a tiny bottle of Tobasco sauce (though I despise Tobasco...long story). I love a good Bloody Mary that hits you right at the back of your mouth...you know that little kick that gets you and is just below a cough. All in all, although this wasn't my favorite year for eating at the Grand Hotel...the romance, the glory, and the panache of this buildings glory days are evident. I am lucky enough to be there during the movie festival so the large feathered hats, intricate laces, and top hats almost steal the show. It is very nice to take a step back from the worries of the economy, terrorists, and politics...even if it is only for a long weekend.
FOOD: 4 Plates
SERVICE: 10 Plates (Best service I've ever received)
ATMOSPHERE: 8 Plates (You can not beat time at The Grand)
Restaurant Review #6: Ristorante Piccirilli
One night "The Queen" decided we should go out for dinner and the regular cycle of restaurants wasn't cutting it. I craved pasta, I craved cheese...to the smart phone aka the growth in my right hand....where is there an Italian restaurant that isn't big box?? Ahh...yes, Ristorante Piccirilli in Shelby Township. Ummm...what? Where? You mean that place at 24 Mile and Old Vandyke?? Whatever, I'm starving...and then we pulled in. Ok, I drive a yuppie crossover and I parked amongst Porsche, Cadillac, and other tinted vehicles that was almost cliche to be parked in an italian restaurant. We walked in...yep, I am officially in New York City just waiting for Marlon Brando to be sitting in the corner with a napkin tucked in his shirt. This was actually turning into a fun night out with the parents afterall! Inside it was dark, it was stucco and exposed brick, candles and wall sconces, and music from none other than "Old Blue Eyes." Did I mention I was starving?
I started with the "Escargots Bourguignone" because as you can tell by my last review I like the snails...and in the middle of suburbia these were actually quite good. Escargot has a fine line between tender and pencil eraser. They arrived in the classic escargot pan of six half circle cups filled with artery clogging goodness of butter and herbs. I pretty much soaked up every drop with the fresh bread that was provided. People think that escargot is slimy or fishy and its not. Texture wise its like a cooked portabello mushroom to the tooth. The mouth feel is nothing more than any other piece of meat or shellfish. For my entree I had the "Scaloppine alla Valdostana." This was tender, juicy, thinly sliced veal smothered in salty prosciutto di parma, buttery aged provalone, and intensely flavorful demi glace that melded on the plate. I can only imagine this is what it is like in any home in Rome, Tuscany, or even Brooklyn....comforting and hearty. The accompaniment also took me by storm. Tender eggplant breaded with crisp bread crumbs, parsley, and parmesan. I've never had a fried food melt in my mouth like this. I could have eaten an entire plate of just the eggplant and been happy. For kicks I actually pulled out my very best Godfather impression and patted my stomach. Job well done Piccirilli...job well done. And then...I heard him. Ok, take every stereotype from a mob movie, put it into writing, and this guy is the picture next to it. Oversize gold rimmed glasses, short sleeve button down shirt with graying "taco meat"...that's chest hair for you newbies...and a tough guy attitude. I won't repeat the whole conversation but let's just say there was one other family of four in the place so all those cars weren't there vehicles, it was almost closing time, this guy came out of a room I couldn't see the entrance to, and he didn't appreciate that any of us were still there.
I didn't know whether to enter witness protection or laugh. I chose the third option...DESSERT!! If there is one dessert I have weakness for it is creme brulee. On a side note, the best creme brulee I have ever had was in London, at Harrods and it had raspberries in it...hang on I must compose myself. Stateside, and in true DeatroitFoodie fashion, the best creme brulee I've had was at the Ritz Carlton in Dearborn, MI. Piccirilli's was up there though...no eggy aftertaste, the carmelized sugar was thick enough to give that satisfying crack and thin enough to not ruin the silkyness of the custard. I love taking out a spoonful and seeing the tiny "Black Pearls" (ok that was for the Queen and if she ever reads this she will chuckle and for anyone who know the Queen you get it too) of vanilla bean seeds. I should've brought a wheel chair because I was so full I had trouble moving. Then as quickly as it began...it was over. We paid the bill and scooted out the door before we had a return trip from the unhappy gentleman. Now I am not profiling...this honestly happened. I was even shocked at how this played out. I mean as a foodie this was the best dinner and a show I had in a long time! I'm assuming that this day was rare, that we had come in on a special meeting night of the family that owned the place and their closest friends. Who knows...and honestly with authentic, stick-to-your ribs food does it really matter??
Ristorante Piccirilli hasn't felt the need to update the decor, the exterior, or added uncessary "razzle dazzle." It is fresh, it is home made, and you can tell that there is history and pride behind it. This is was foodie-ism is about...not glittering, hand-blown glass fixtures and certainly not rainbows of sugar art. The ingredient that makes for the best food is tradition. If you go to this place, please say hello to my angry friend. Ok don't but I bet you look around the whole time and you'll probably wonder the same thing I did...are those mirrors two-way?? We will never know...or hope we never have to.
FOOD: 3.5 Plates
SERVICE: 2.5 Plates
ATMOSPHERE: 7 Plates (I just couldn't make this stuff up! If I disappear any time soon, you know where to start looking!!!)
Restaurant Review #7 - Brioni Cafe & Deli
I am a die hard Michigan State football fan...I mean I own everything from the usual coats, hats, and shirts to the odd apron, dish towel, and blanket with sleeves. So, there are very few things that come from Ann Arbor that I like..very through. One of those favorites happens to be Zingerman's. If you haven't been to Zingerman's, on none other than Detroit St, then get in your car and go there now!!! Ok wait, read the rest of this then go. After filling up my yuppie mobile, I was driving back towards the area of my job locations and saw a sign drawn by hand that said "Zingerman's"...I think it was either served here or available...not that I got past the word Zingerman's. Since I hadn't eaten lunch I decided to check this place out. As you enter the glass doors, the decor is your typical coffee place with coral walls and black accents. There is a bakery case filled with assorted muffins and other pastries. Then there they were (Cue chime from the beginning of a Simpsons episode) little chocolate squares of goodness or as they are commonly know as the Zingerman's brownie. Then I realized I had no clue what this place is called...ah Brioni's...found it. On the walls were chalkboards with the names of all the salads, sandwiches, and other fare that they offer.
I would've preferred that the ingredients be listed on the sign because as a new customer, I found that the names of the sandwiches, though witty, did not necessarily match up with the ingredients. For instance, I ordered the "Designers Special," and you have no clue what is on it. I had to grab a take-out menu and step out of line to figure out what I wanted to eat. I very friendly, lovely woman helped me out. I am embarrassed to say that I didn't get her name but she made my experience just THAT much better. As I stated I ordered the "Designers Special" and a cup of the "Tuscan Bean Soup" along with a chocolate chip muffin, and a Pepsi. The soup came out first and was served with a slice of Zingerman's farm bread. The consistency was what I would expect of a bean soup, not runny and not quite a stew. I was a little worried at first, in the brackish broth I could see what appeared to be granular spots which I think was granular garlic or other spices. I noticed large leaves of fresh parsley, shreds of carrots, white beans, and chunks of what appeared to be beef. The temperature was excellent, not so hot you scorched your taste buds and not too cool. As the three bears would say "JUST RIGHT." I would liken this soup to the words hearty and lush. Hearty in the thick ingredients and substantial broth, but lush in that it made you feel warm, comforted, and your mouth salivated for the next bite. Then came my sandwich, yep, my eyes were bigger than my stomach! The sandwich spanned the entire basket it came in. Thick, juicy slices of chicken breast, which appeared to be hand carved was adorned with crispy smoky bacon, oozing Munster cheese with its signature orange rind, leaf lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise all perched between two buttery, toasted slices of the Zingerman's bread. A classic pickle spear was wrapped in paper so that it didn't make the sandwich soggy. This is the type of sandwich I would make myself on the weekend. Nothing was overpowering and the bread was just thick enough to hold the ingredients but didn't taint the flavors from coming through.
My muffin came in a Zingerman's bag. I am not sure if that meant that they were not made onside or not. When I ordered the comment was made that they had run out the day before so these were extremely fresh. I tried to pull the paper off but the entire bottom of the muffin fell apart and tore loose from the top. Not to be denied chocolatey goodness, I ate the top first. For as delicately as the bottom had fallen apart I was surprised at how dense the muffin really was. The chips were abundant and I liked that they used a white vanilla muffin batter instead of a chocolate one. They can sometimes be an overload of mouth.
I couldn't eat the entire sandwich, which is a good thing because on my sparse budget it was easier to justify to myself that a sandwich could cost $9.99 and come with nothing but a pickle. All together my bill was almost $20.00 for the sandwich, soup, muffin, and pop. So, it is definitely not something I would go and do on a regular basis. I noticed that on the wall they had received several awards from the "Taste of Clarkston" festival for best soup or comfort food, and I can definitely agree with those judges. Brioni's was welcoming, it was upbeat, and most importantly delicious. Unfortunately the sheer cost of these basic foods detracts from my overall rating. I know businesses have to make money but it seems to me, even in Oakland County, a chicken sandwich should cost more than an entire chicken dinner with sides.
FOOD: 3 Plates (The prices really detract from the overall picture)
SERVICE: 4 Plates ( I loved the woman who waited on me!)
ATMOSPHERE: 2.5 Plates (It wasn't anything memorable but wasn't bad)
Restaurant Review #8: 24 Grille
Some people say that the glory days of Detroit are behind it. I say they are just coming back. For anyone not familiar with the Book Cadillac building, just a few years ago it was a mere shell of its former grace. It was shattered plaster, broken glass, and a reminder of how much Michigan has lost over the years. That was until a few years ago when it was artfully restored to combine the class and revelry of the 1930's and 40s with modern luxury. The building also hosts a number of floors of condominiums, the previously reviewed Michael Symon's Roast, and the cleverly named Spa 19 24 Grille. This is aptly named because the Book Cadillac was originally completed in 1924.
As you approach the entrance, this could be any restaurant in any building. The magic happens as you cross the threshold. Detail...you'll hear me use that word a lot in this review. Floor to ceiling windows overlook the neighborhood communal garden and flood the room with sunlight. The historic iron beams and cement "bones" of the ceiling are left open and painted a dull black to not detract from the trendy, shattered glass wall that separates the eating space form the bar area. The remaining walls are a pale smooth wood that could welcome you to any fine vineyard. Hanging above the bar are rectangular chandeliers constructed of beads of glass that sparkle like a diamond bracelet. Stare long enough and you can almost hear jazz and see flappers. Its classic meets modern chic...it’s the detail that draws you in. Detail...it’s the staff member who noticed a spill on my place mat before I did and seamlessly changed it out. Detail...it's our waiter Keith noticing that the table wasn't quite as level as it should be. Detail...it's every person in the restaurant having a smile on their face and willingness to make sure you are enjoying the minutes you spend in their world. You may say it is their job...but I ask you how many places you have eaten where the food is spoiled by the attitudes of the staff?
The Queen and I started with the poutine which is pronounced (PU-teen). From what I have read, the dish originated in Quebec and has crossed the border into Northern US states. Our poutine was served in the most adorable, little cast iron casserole dish. Crispy 1/3 inch thick fries were smothered in a rich, demi-glace gravy that had a finish of red wine...or at least it seemed. Meaty chunks of pulled pork was layered above the gravy and unlike a traditional pulled pork this was more savory and has distinct chili powder flavor, atop the pork was gooey cheese curds. Or, what was once cheese curds...I'm not sure if they just melted waiting to come to the table or the melted them on purpose but I was really hoping for some chunky goodness. In any case when all the items were eating together, the result was fantastic. Hearty but not heavy like it presents itself. Good starter for any chilly fall or winter evening. XXXX
For my entree, I had the "Day Boat Scallops." THANK YOU 24 GRILLE FOR BEING A RESTAURANT THAT NEITHER OVER BRONZES NOR OVER COOKS YOUR SCALLOPS! These were just about perfect! The caramelization on the exterior was enough to provide rich flavor but didn't detract from the silkiness of the meat. Surrounding the two scallops were "buttons" of zucchini and yellow squash, chopped cockle meat, steamed clams, and grapefruit supremes. The sauce was a citrus beure blanc and very delicate...surprisingly delicate for the dish. The citrus brightened the seafood and to be honest was a pleasant memory of my trip to Florida this past May. The Queen ordered the "Gnocchi Arrabbiata." Instead of the normal fork tine imprinted gnocchi you usually see, these were small pillow shapes that were pan fried. Great fresh tomato and pungent fresh garlic enveloped these fluffy gnocchi...the Asiago on top added just the right amount of salt. As mentioned in previous reviews...I LOVE TRUFFLES...so the Queen and I ordered a side of the truffle mac and cheese. For the price you received a generous portion and it was served in the same small cast iron casserole dish as the poutine...I need to find some of those for myself! Is there such thing as classy comfort food? If so...this was it. The large spiral tubes were a prefect vessel for the thick, creamy béchamel style sauce. There were toasted bread crumbs on top added so much textural contrast. What I didn't get was any of the truffle flavor I longed for neither in the aroma or flavor. Perhaps it was lost in the béchamel or perhaps it just wasn't strong enough for my taste. As a mac-n-cheese goes it was delicious...but as a truffle mac-n-cheese I was left disappointed.
We ordered a bottle of Black Star Farms "Late Harvest Riesling 2009." As you know I recently visited the Inn at Black Star Farms so I was impressed to find this featured on the wine list. This wine paired perfectly with the delicate seafood and even the airy gnocchi. It also went very well with our dessert choice...you got it...crème brulee. If I have one fault as a foodie, I can base my entire eating experience on a restaurant's crème brulee. If you read my other reviews you know that the best crème brulee have had was at London's Harrod's department store. Well, thank goodness I don't have to fly for nine hours for crème brulee anymore! The brulee on top was tick enough to give the satisfying crackle. The custard itself was bordering on being too soft but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The Queen and I were actually fighting each other with our spoons to try and keep the other one away from our half.
Detail...I keep coming back to that word because I was so impressed with their detail. While enjoying our entrees, we were approached by a lovely woman named Nicole Nassif. She had noticed our wine selection and we explained our recent trip. Well, as luck would have it the 24 Grille offers monthly wine dinners. On November 17th the restaurant is featuring both Black Star Farms and L. Mawby vineyards from the Northern Michigan Peninsula. Served at one long table, the guests are offered pairings from the wine maker and the chef. If you are unfamiliar with L. Mawby, he only works with sparkling wines. I visited this vineyard while on my trip in October, and he is humorous, down to earth, and quite frankly offers superb sparkling wines. I ordinarily wouldn't publicize something like this but based on my lunch experience and my newly found adoration for our Michigan wine makers, I would highly recommend you trying to procure a spot.
I can honestly say that if Michael Symon's Roast casts a shadow on other restaurants, the 24 Grille is not in that shadow. It stands on its own two feet and shines in its own right. It even has enough shine to attract celebrities such as Whitney Houston who enjoyed her lunch at the same time we were there. I'd like to thank Nicole for taking the time to speak with us, thank Keith for making our lunch a wonderful start to our girl’s day, and to the gentleman, whose name I do not remember who changed my place mat...thank you for paying attention to the details.
FOOD: 5 Plates
SERVICE: 7 Plates
ATMOSPHERE: 4 Plates
Update: The Queen and I recently went back and re-ordered the mac-n-cheese...I added back in the half point I'd originally deducted. BUT...by far our new favorite dish was the Asian pork belly. There are no words for the sinful, silkiness and outright heavenly flavor! Thanks again to Nicole for stopping by. CHECK THEIR WEBSITE FOR THEIR MONTHLY SPECIAL DINNERS!!
Restaurant Review #9: The Historic White Horse Inn
Well Halloween just passed… the streets were filled with little ones dressed like their favorite cartoon character or something spooky. In honor of my dad, who we will call The Big Guy, whose favorite holiday is Halloween, we decided to review one of Michigan's haunted restaurants. Located in the sleepy little town of Metamora, MI is The Historic White Horse Inn. For you Michiganders, you are undoubtedly familiar with the mile roads. For you non-Michiganders, the lower the mile road, the closer to Detroit...well let’s just say I'm in the 30's of the mile roads...I mean out there, but this place was still twenty minutes North (beyond mile road limitations) and then about fifteen minutes West.
The exterior of the building is amazing…you can see the many layers of paint that have made up its one hundred and sixty year history. The rustic sign with the horse head reminds me of Old Salem, NC or Williamsburg, VA. The real fun starts as you walk inside. I’m not sure there was a plumb beam in the place! It was like Dr. Seuss meets Shakespeare. To be honest the main eating area could be a fantastic back drop for a Pirates of the Caribbean movie…minus the John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe poster that line the rear of the bar. But, you don’t come here for an architecture lesson…you come here for food reviews. So, here we go…we chose this restaurant because allegedly there are somewhere around five (5) ghosts inhabiting the former boarding house. The most famous of which is Lorenzo Hoard who is the original proprietor. What better place to eat on All Hallows Eve than the oldest restaurant in Michigan, a one hundred and sixty year old building with ghosts!!
For appetizers, I ordered the “High Street Scallops,” the Queen ordered the “Candied Brie,” and The Big Guy ordered “Flash Fried Calamari.” Now, for anyone who knows The Big Guy…he could never do reviews…he likes to eat and unless it is repulsive he will eat anything…maybe I should call him “Mikey” instead! The Big Guy invited me to try his calamari. He and I agreed the bread was light and crispy. The texture of the meat itself was a tad tough but much better than some Italian restaurants I have visited. Now, in all fairness…just over a week ago I had what I thought was a near perfect scallop dish at 24 Grille…so sadly I directly compared the two. Upon arrival to the table I notices the "High Street Scallops" had a fishy odor…not good. Fortunately, that odor didn’t translate into the bites of food. There was a mound of spring greens in the center topped by frizzled onions. The heat of both the plate and onions wilted the greens and that was mildly unpleasant. There were slices of tomato on the plate under each scallop, I tried it with scallop and onions but it just didn't add anything…strike two. The scallops themselves were not bronzed enough. Although the centers were still rare which is how I like them, the sauce was nothing more than clarified butter. Frankly, I’m all for simple but this dish was bland. The only saving grace was the frizzled onions which added some flavor, salt, and texture. Now, the Queen…well she was happier than on the day I was born! (Okay, perhaps I am reaching a little because I am pretty special!) The brie came nestled in a large hunk of house made bread, smothered in apples and a warm currant preserves. The top of the bread “boulle” which wasn’t really a “boulle” in shape and was over charred for my tastes. The Queen was happy though, she loved the cheese and said they didn’t over heat it so that it was nothing but molten oil. The bread itself with the preserves and cheese was pretty good…tart but sweet and decadent.
Before arriving I read up on what White Horse is known for and one item is the “Fox Hunt” salad and its sweet and sour dressing. I was really looking forward to it…I was a little iffy when it arrived. First let me start by saying I enjoyed the dressing. It was similar to a traditional poppy seed dressing and was perfectly balanced between the oil and vinegar base. Very light, slightly sweet, and it paired well with the richness of the gorgonzola cheese and salt of the bacon crumbles. Well, they were once bacon crumbles. My bacon was chewy and cold and I think detracted from the rest of the salad. Plus, I had one…yes one and only one grape tomato. I say either give you a few of an ingredient or give you none because one does nothing for the eater. They sell the dressing separately, and to be honest I would buy it and then recreate the salad my way at home.
Entrees…where do I start? You eat with your eyes first, and I know that in the literature I read that the owner’s intent was to not make the White Horse full of flare…and maybe I should judge the presentation based on what food could have looked like in 1860 but…yeah, again it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t awe inspiring. The big guy ordered the “All You Can Eat Fish and Chips.” He said the breading, which resembled a beer batter or tempura batter, was crisp and flavorful. He had a second helping, so my guess is it was pretty good. His plate was pretty barren with some fries, a lemon wedge and a tiny stainless, diner-esque cup of tartar sauce. I ordered the “London Broil.” The mashed potatoes were not as creamy as I like them, but I like that they left lumps and the skins on them. It was less commercial and more like grandma’s house. My vegetable accompaniment was green beans and asparagus. Now, I prefer my veggies the standard tender crisp instead of mushy, but most of my beans were almost raw. My meat itself was topped with the same frizzled onions as my scallops but then there was this, this…salsa on top and it did nothing for me besides make my onions soggy. I gently scraped it off. I ordered my meat medium but what I got was well done. I’m not a complainer…and as a reviewer I review what is given to me the first time. But there wasn’t even a hint of pink in the center of this meat. It was marginally tender but all in all a disappointment. The Queen ordered the “Bourbon Steak”…much better on the doneness. The meat was also more tender than my steak and the peppercorn sauce gave a latent heat, and a rich caramel undertone. She had the same potatoes, same veggies, and same frizzled onions.
Perhaps the most famous dish at the White Horse is their one hundred and sixty year old bread pudding. What I am to crème brulee, The Queen is to bread pudding. One problem…the woman hates raisins so hallelujah this one was raisin free. Presented in a large glass pedestal bowl, the dessert was enough for two or three people to share. It felt like it weighed ten pounds! But in this sweet, sticky, rum sauce engulfed dessert lays the White Horse’s salvation. I would drive out there just for this dessert! We also ordered a crème brulee…its becoming a pattern, I know. And, yeah…it was eggy and overcooked in my mind. The Queen likes hers that way and I just…don’t. The Big Guy went really out on the limb for his dessert, an ice cream sundae with Saunder’s hot fudge…boring...moving on! Would I go back…yeah probably? If I rate this on historic, stick to your ribs, old school food it was better than the Liberty Tree Inn at Disney. If I rate it ingredient for ingredient against other restaurants in the area, I would say it is mediocre. The two best parts of the night were seeing Lorenzo the ghost’s boots at the top of the stairs and having my body react with giant goose bumps, and our waiter Dylan was the second thing. If you do go to the White Horse, whether to prove me wrong or to go ghost hunting, ask for Dylan. This young man was charismatic, friendly, and even shared one of his Lorenzo the ghost experiences with the Queen.
Besides my review on my food, part of this job is the taking in my environment. At the table to my left, a rude man pointed out the difference in the portion size of two salmon pasta dishes. Now, Dylan handled the situation perfectly. He went back and brought out the man’s teenage daughter another piece of salmon. (Which she proceeded to not eat and shove in a carryout along with the other piece she barely touched. I find that rude.) Ordinarily, I would’ve chalked this up to one rude man…but then the table on the other side of us sent back a salad. I just found it odd. I have heard nothing but good things about the Historic White Horse Inn. I love that they use fresh, local ingredients. But, this night was a miss for me. Maybe I will get invited back to change my mind. Maybe this was just an off night? I don't know...but for once I hope that the sequel would be better than the first.
FOOD: 2.5 Plates (The Queen wants you to know she gives them 4 Plates)
SERVICE: 3 Plates (Dylan was nice but several others seemed miserable.)
ATMOSPHERE: 6 Plates (Fantastic old building, wonderful ambiance.)